Wednesday, June 30, 2021

You Can Help Island Foxes and Other Wildlife This Weekend

As we all head out for a holiday weekend, here's a quick reminder that things we use everyday can be dangerous to wildlife.

A sad story just came in from the US Navy regarding an island fox on San Clemente Island. "I'm honestly surprised we have not seen this before," says Melissa Booker, Navy Wildlife Biologist/Natural Resources Manager for San Clemente Island. "Discarded fishing line is notorious for impacting marine species and birds. Sadly, add foxes to the list."

"We lost this young female to entanglement this [past] weekend."

You can see how the fox caught her tiny foot in the snarl of discarded fishing line, which was out of sight in the bush. Struggling to free herself, only tightened the line. 

Especially during hot summer days, the window to save an entrapped animal is short.



This death could have been easily avoided. Fishing line should always be disposed of so that it doesn't endanger wildlife. Left on the ground or in the water, it remains a threat for years. 

If you have to cut fishing line because of a snarl, don't let it get away from you. If you see a snarl of fishing line, carefully pick it up. Dispose of fishing line into a closed trash container.  Be careful of fishing hooks, they are also dangerous to people and wildlife. Island fox injured by fishing hook - Sea lion caught in fishing debris

Fishing line isn't the only everyday item that can be dangerous to small animals. Another member of the Island Fox Conservation Recovery Group, research ecologist Brian Cypher of CSU-Stanislaus reports: "...we have documented 60+ kit foxes so far getting tangled and trapped in soccer nets or baseball batting cage nets" in California's Central Valley. A third of the trapped kit foxes didn't survive the entanglement.

Even COVID-19 face masks dropped on the ground can become a hazard for small animals. The ear-loops get hooked around small mammals, birds, and even fish.

But YOU can help all of these animals. These situations can easily be prevented.

  • Put old fishing line safely into trash containers
  • Drop game nets or lift them up off the ground to reduce entanglement
  • Cut the ear loops on face masks before disposing of them

Let's have a safe summer for people and wildlife!

Other things to be aware of if you are visiting the Channel Islands this summer

Growing list of animals recently involved with fishing line:

Pacific pond turtle (endangered species)


Friday, June 25, 2021

Visiting Island Foxes This Summer

The Channel Islands are open for visitors. Here are a few things to remember when visiting island foxes.

Keep your food safe! 

Island foxes evolved with humans. They know how to read your actions and they know where you put food. 

They are smart. 

Zippers, snaps, plastic latches, and Velcro are not fox proof. If food is not within your reach, it should be locked up in metal fox-proof lockers provided in campgrounds and visitor areas. 

Do you see the island fox that the man in the photo is not paying attention too? 

It unzipped the backpack and took a sandwich.

Watch this video taken this week:


Your food and its packaging are dangerous to island foxes. A young fox who eats a food wrapper might end up with intestinal blockage and die. Potato chip bags get stuck on small heads and have caused island fox fatalities. Use fox-safe trash bins on Catalina Island and remember to pack out all trash from Channel Island National Park and The Nature Conservancy islands.

Be a Fox Friend! 

Island foxes are small animals with big personalities. Be aware when island foxes are near:

  • watch
  • appreciate 
  • give them space
  • photograph

Fox Friends do not chase or try to touch island foxes. They stand still and let island foxes walk past them

Island foxes are wild animals who don't mind sharing spaces with humans. Let's help keep them that way. 

On islands with vehicles: Be aware of island foxes crossing roads. In 2020, the greatest single cause of island fox death was being hit by a car. 

Visit island foxes and enjoy sharing the Channel Islands with a charismatic wild animal. 

Island foxes evolved with Native peoples in a relationship of mutual respect. Let's protect the island fox, its island home, and its special relationship with people. 

Friday, June 18, 2021

Foxes For Foxes

The Fort Collins, CO Foxes baseball team has been raising awareness about island foxes since 2012.

When the team takes to the field on June 25, 2021 against the Rough Riders, as part of the Mountain Collegiate Baseball League, $1 from every ticket sold will be donated to Friends of the Island Fox to support island fox conservation.

There will be a Free Give-Away - Download the Flyer

Go Foxes! 

Have a great season and let's vaccinate some island foxes!

$20 vaccinates an island fox against deadly canine distemper virus and rabies.

Island foxes are good runners. They could run the bases faster than a human, but they might bite the baseball. 

Your club or organization can help island foxes too! 

Contact Pat Meyer at 

Friday, June 11, 2021

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox Science in Progress

What are these? Look closely. These are swabs from island fox ears and backsides being processed in the lab at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington D.C.

This is island fox science in progress! FIF 2020 Research Grant recipient Dr. Allie DeCandia updated us on her work investigating the microbiome of island foxes.

"Between July and December 2020, collaborators across all six Channel Islands collected ear canal swabs, anal swabs, and blood samples from 50–60 foxes per subspecies. After collection in the field, these samples were shipped to Princeton University for temporary storage until all samples arrived on the east coast." In March, DeCandia moved the samples to her lab at the Smithsonian. She spent April and May inventorying samples.

"My collaborators did a fantastic job sampling foxes!" DeCandia says. "In total, I inventoried 851 swabs over the course of 23 hyper-focused laboratory hours (which were thankfully not consecutive)."

Processing the samples must be meticulous because she is investigating DNA.

"I sterilized scissors (bleach dunk / water dunk / superheat in a Bacinerator), snipped off the swab tip, placed the swab tip in a sterile microcentrifuge tube, recorded metadata written on the original swab container, and repeated the process for each swab collected."

The coordinating 300+ blood samples are now being inventoried and the individual island fox DNA extracted. DeCandia will spend the summer extracting microbial DNA from the swabs and preparing samples for "microbiome sequencing." Over the fall/winter, she'll be deep in analyzing the data.

"I am ecstatic to be working with so many amazing researchers in the field and in the lab," DeCandia says, "and can't wait to analyze this impressive dataset in the months ahead!"

FIF grant funds are processing the DNA extraction. 

Your donations support this cutting edge research.

If an island fox is an environment for microbes, what was lost when island fox populations declined to just a few individuals? How is an entire species' health impacted if they recover from near extinction, but have lost some of the microbial biodiversity that protected them from bacteria infection or supported healthy digestion? 

Island fox microbiome investigation will help us understand island fox health and may have implications for other endangered species.

Your donations supporting research are an investment in the island fox's long-term survival.

Friends of the Island Fox is taking applications

through August 31 for our 

2021 Research Grant  (see application)

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

2021 Island Fox Status Update

All island fox populations are healthy and stable, but biosecurity and the potential of deepening drought raises concerns.

That is the update from the Island Fox Conservation Working Group meeting held May 18, 2021, which reports on the status of island foxes across the islands. The following information is taken from FIF notes taken at the meeting. Population numbers reported here are official estimates from each land manager as calculated from the 2020 counting period. (How are island foxes counted)

Overview: COVID-19 restrictions impacted human travel to the islands, but all islands were able to implement protocols to keep biologists and island foxes safe. Annual counting was delayed on some islands and research was halted temporarily, but all efforts were able to resume.

Following a year of normal rainfall in 2019, 2020's lower rainfall levels resulted in island fox populations on San Miguel, Santa Cruz, and Santa Catalina Islands adjusting downward within expected normal levels. Reduced resources, resulted in fewer pups being born, but adult survivorship remained high and the estimated number of foxes per square kilometer, or fox density, remained high (Miguel 7.4 foxes per km squared, Cruz 9.4, and Catalina 9.3). 

The major threats to island foxes in 2021 are:

  • biosecurity: the threat of introduced viruses, disease, or nonnative animal species
  • climate change impacts: increasing regional temperatures, decreasing rainfall, and prolonged drought, which reduces food resources, increases wildfire threats, and promotes parasites
  • parasites: ticks, fleas, tick-borne diseases and intestinal parasites on some islands

How is Friends of the Island Fox helping Island Foxes? -video update

Greatest Concern

Santa Catalina Island foxes continue to maintain a stable population and fox density is high. However, an outbreak of canine distemper virus is currently impacting wild raccoons on the adjacent mainland. In 2020, a raccoon roamed Catalina's interior for several weeks until it was caught. The Catalina Island Conservancy reminded everyone that if distemper arrives on the island again, the high fox density could facilitate the rapid transmission of this fatal virus. FIF is currently raising funding to support the vaccination of 300–350 island foxes on Catalina Island. This is vital to protecting a core population and reducing opportunities for the virus to spread.

 FIF help support testing for disease antibodies in island foxes in 2020. This effort revealed an increasing prevalence of Adenovirus and Coronavirus on Catalina, fortunately neither virus appears to be causing mortalities. The increase, however, reminded everyone of how canine distemper virus would also spread if foxes were not vaccinated.

Tick below island fox eye
Though no tick-borne disease has yet been found among Catalina Island foxes, 48% have evidence of ticks and fleas. Studying tick-borne illness continues to be important for foxes and people. 

Interactions with people are greatest on Catalina and 75% of island fox deaths on this island were related to people–car strikes, attacks by pet dogs, etc. If drought conditions persist, parasites are expected to increase and foxes may be more attracted to human-inhabited areas.


San Miguel Island foxes have returned to stability, but they are a naturally small population. Renewed drought could cause declines as it did from 2015–2018. Research continues to search for the vector species that is being consumed by island foxes and leads to fatalities from an intestinal parasite. Channel Islands National Park continues to watch this population closely. (In the graph below the Green line shows even years, the population estimate in 2019 was 453.)


The two other smaller islands San Nicolas and San Clemente remain stable. In fact, San Clemente experienced a localized rain event that occurred at the perfect time in spring 2020. Plant life and deermice thrived and the island fox population boomed (see Blue line in graph below). Human impacts–car strike, entrapment in man-made structures, toxic waste, and improperly deployed rodenticide remain the greatest threat to these island foxes.

Santa Cruz Island foxes remain close to carrying capacity for their habitat and naturally adjusted downward in a lower rain year. Adult foxes had a 93.1% probablity of surviving in 2020. Study of tick-borne disease continues. Biosecurity is a concern for this second most visited island. The Nature Conservancy is analyzing boater activity around the island and determining the most critical areas to deploy biosecurity cameras to watch for nonnative species making their way onto the island. This may be important technology looking forward.


Santa Rosa Island foxes
are believed to have increased in 2020 and have yet to reach a carrying capacity plateau. (Pink line in graph above.) The estimated population now exceeds all other islands and the density is estimated at 11.3 foxes per km squared. The high number of foxes on this island may increase survival challenges for island foxes as drought impacts heighten. Another thought is that prior range-size data may no longer accurately represent this island. The last time data on range size was studied on Santa Rosa was 2009–10, when fox density was much lower. Friends of the Island Fox would like to support a GPS/telemetry collar investigation of island fox range size on Santa Rosa Island to update the understanding of range size in a dense population. This data is vital to accurate population estimates and understanding of how disease might move through this population.

*Note graphs show population estimates from even years. Population graphs with data from all years show greater fluctuation. 2019 was a record high population year for Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina Islands, these two populations adjusted downward in 2020. 

Researchers also gave updates on island fox diet and microbiome investigations. FIF will report on this in the coming weeks.